by Lynn Nottage

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Sweat Summary

Lynn Nottage’s Sweat is a play set in 2000 and 2008 that explores the tension in a group of friends in the midst of layoffs at a factory in Reading, Pennsylvania. 

  • Tracey and Jessie grow bitter as their job security is threatened and their wages cut, while their friend Cynthia receives a promotion. 
  • Oscar, the busboy at a bar, is viewed as a traitor when he begins working at the factory the friends and their union are protesting. 
  • Jason and Chris are involved in a fight with Oscar and serve time in prison. They are released in 2008.


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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Sweat switches between 2000 and 2008 as Lynn Nottage tells the story of a group of friends who work together on the factory floor. When the plant threatens to cut wages and lay off workers, the friends turn against each other as they struggle to stay afloat.

The play opens in 2008, and we meet Jason and Chris as they individually speak to their parole officer, Evan. They are getting out of jail after a conflict they were both involved in. As the play switches back to 2000, we hope to learn what happened between them.

In 2000, we meet best friends Tracey, Cynthia, and Jessie. They all work together and love to hang out at the local bar. The bartender is Stan, who used to work at the factory with them until he suffered an injury. Oscar is a Colombian American busboy at the bar. Stan seems to be the link between Oscar and the others, as the others treat Oscar like an outsider.

Jason and Chris are Tracey and Cynthia’s sons respectively. They also work at the plant, although Chris talks about going to college. They are best friends and joke around together.

Tracey talks about an upcoming promotion at work and how there is a rumor that they want to promote someone from the floor to a manager position. She doesn’t really believe a floor worker will get the promotion, but when Cynthia talks about applying, Tracey decides to as well.

Cynthia gets the promotion, and Tracey wonders if it’s just because Cynthia is Black. Oscar asks Tracey about job openings on the floor, and Tracey says he must have heard wrong because Olstead’s is not hiring and you have to know someone to get in anyway. Oscar shows her a flyer from the community center, written in Spanish, that mentions the openings and says nothing about needing to be in the union.

Tensions rise as Cynthia’s new position pits her against her friends. Management wants to cut wages, and the union will have to vote to accept the concessions or go on strike. Not wanting to give up what they’ve worked for, the floor workers vote against the deal and end up getting shut out. Tracey and Jessie view Cynthia as a traitor.

Everyone tries to stay positive, but as the strike goes on, they begin to get desperate. This is highlighted by Brucie, who experienced a similar situation at a different mill. Tempted by the opportunity to finally work at the factory, where he will receive higher wages than at the bar, Oscar crosses the picket line. This leads to a confrontation with Jason, egged on by his mother. Chris gets involved in the fight. Stan tries to stop it but ends up getting hit.

In 2008, Chris and Jason both find themselves back at the bar to find some peace. Oscar now works there as the manager, and he takes care of Stan, who we find out has suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the fight. We are left hoping the characters will attempt to make amends as we see the effects of the conflict.

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